Wednesday, August 4, 2010: 2:30 PM
401-402, David L Lawrence Convention Center
. Palustrine wetlands are valued because of their ecological functions including stormwater retention, water purification, and habitat. Protecting wetlands from anthropogenic destruction or degradation is largely achieved by regulations at the federal, state and local levels. Well-written and consistently applied regulations have the dual benefit of achieving regional wetland protection, and providing a predictable set of rules for developers wishing to pursue projects that may impact wetland resources. Local environmental activists often influence development by opposing particular projects. In instances where regulatory oversight is lax, activists help prevent destruction of ecologically valuable wetlands. However, where regulations are well implemented, activists may unfairly oppose specific projects, creating unnecessary financial burdens and delays for developers who are otherwise pursuing their work with due diligence. Moreover, parties seeking to stop a development project for personal or financial reasons may claim potential environmental damages. Environmental policy based on sound ecological science should eliminate such practices. Narrow interpretations of law that fail to include best science may be legally sound, but represent poor policy.
A case study focusing on a proposed wetland dredging project in northeastern Pennsylvania will be discussed. That project, located in the southern end of Harvey's Lake in northern Luzerne County, involved a proposed dredge of an emergent / scrub-shrub wetland to create navigable waterways for residents of a planned housing development. All components of the project fit within established federal and state guidelines, except a botanical search found a submerged water milfoil (Myriophyllum heterophyllum), listed as Endangered in Pennsylvania. Based on advice from botanical and ecological experts that the species was invasive in Harvey's Lake, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection issued a permit. A local activist group seeking to stop the project challenged the DEP ruling in court, claiming that prevailing scientific opinion on the species status in the lake should not have been considered by the DEP. The court found in favor of the activist group. Those findings changed the manner in which the DEP now allows site-specific scientific findings to influence permitting decisions. Recommendations for improving the role of science in decision making in view of this experience will be provided.